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Understanding civil justice

This article is for anyone who needs to understand how the civil court process works and where to go for further information and support.

The civil justice system

Civil law

Civil law is about the rights and obligations of individuals and organisations. It aims to sort out arguments and problems between people, and other organisations – such as companies.

Read more about civil law and how it might affect you on the Shelter Scotland website.

Words you might come across

The Scottish civil court system has its own terminology. It's sometimes different from the terminology of Scottish criminal courts and the civil court system in England.

This guide to the Scottish civil court system on the Scottish Parliament website includes a list of terminology you might come across.

Alternatives to court

Alternative dispute resolution

Alternative dispute resolution means sorting out problems in an informal way, out of court – like arbitration or mediation.

Alternative dispute resolution – Shelter Scotland


You may be able to take your case to a tribunal for things like employment problems, mental health issues, and immigration and asylum.

Tribunals – Shelter Scotland


If you need some extra support, you could think about going to see a trained counsellor – they help people understand themselves better and work out their own problems.

Counselling – Shelter Scotland

Attending a civil court

Where cases take place

Sheriff courts deal with most civil court cases and are located across Scotland. The Court of Session in Edinburgh deals with complex cases and appeals.

Read more about where civil court cases take place, including information on how cases are prepared and who will be in the courtroom.

Being a witness

You might be asked to give evidence in a civil court case because you started the case, someone has started a case against you or you know something about the case.

Find out about giving being a witness in court, including information on what to expect and what help and support is available.

Expenses for going to court

You may be able to claim back expenses for traveling to and from court, meals, childcare and other caring duties, accompanying a vulnerable witness and loss of earnings.

Find out about claiming expenses for going to court.

Getting legal advice and representation

Using a solicitor

If you need a solicitor you should choose one who has experience in the appropriate area of law.

Get advice on choosing a solicitor and the costs involved on Citizens Advice Scotland.

The Law Society of Scotland is the professional governing body for Scottish solicitors and can provide contact details for solicitors in your local area.

Find a solicitor – the Law Society for Scotland

Law centres

You might be able to get legal advice and representation from a solicitor in a law centre. Most law centres aim to help and represent people who are vulnerable or would otherwise find it difficult to get legal advice.

Find a law centre near you on the Shelter Scotland website.

Help with legal costs

Apply for civil legal aid

Legal aid pays solicitors to help with legal problems - if you're eligible. Legal aid can be either legal advice from a solicitor or someone to represent you in court.

Find out more about legal aid and how to apply.

Find a legal aid solicitor

To apply for legal aid you'll need to find a solicitor that's registered with the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) to do legal aid work.

Find a solicitor on the SLAB website.

Other sources of legal help

The Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) funds projects that can help with problems like debt, benefits, housing and small claims.

Visit the SLAB website to find a project that can give you legal help.

You can also find free help with a legal problem at your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

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